Pasco ponders another annexation

PASCO -- How Andy Anderson lives and what he does on his half-acre hasn't changed much since his home was annexed into Pasco a decade ago.

He has been through an annexation by the city of Pasco twice, once in 1998 and again in 2001, after he moved.

"We didn't really even notice any difference," he said.

Pasco, Franklin County and Franklin Fire District 3 officials are in the process of discussing whether a planned annexation of the so-called county doughnut hole would be possible using a new process created by state law.

The county land surrounded by city land is between roads 40 and 100. The proposed annexation would affect about 4,000 people.

While the process is new, annexation into the city isn't. There have been 21 residential annexations in west Pasco since 1996, said Pasco City Planner David McDonald.

And many of the concerns voiced by residents of the unincorporated county land swallowed by city boundaries aren't new either.

Some have annexation concerns

They worry about increased density of development, government and tax changes, and whether livestock and current uses could stay.

Anderson, executive director of the Housing Authority of Pasco and Franklin County, said like other homeowners, he was concerned about the unknown.

But city officials told him there wouldn't be much change, and there really wasn't, he said.

When the city improved the roads near his home after the 1998 annexation, Anderson said the city kept the aesthetics of the neighborhood and didn't add curbs, gutters or sidewalks.

The 1998 annexation brought into the city 43 acres with 232 people and 94 homes west of Road 44 and north of Sylvester Street.

At his current home, which was part of a 2001 annexation of 501 acres west of Road 100, Anderson said one of his neighbors circulated a petition to get sewer service.

The city used the local improvement district, or LID, process where property owners are assessed for the changes. People have to expect to pay for sewer service, Anderson said, and the residents had the chance to say if they did or didn't want it.

Utilities were the draw

Utilities were why some of the 787 residents of the 610 acres between roads 54 and 100 wanted to be part of Pasco in 2002, said Wayne Burk, whose home was annexed.

Franklin County is a good county to live in, Burk said. But the city was better prepared to provide utility services.

His home still is on a septic tank, but now, Burk said, if his system develops a problem, he can connect to the city's sewer line.

Burk, who is self-employed in construction/ project management, said his water bill went down a bit and he got a more extensive garbage service. It is hard to tell if property taxes were affected, he said.

Bill Smyth, who opposed the annexation of his home during that same 2002 annexation, said he was concerned about the increased size of government and didn't like the process for annexation, which used water agreements as part of the petition.

After annexation, Smyth said not much happened. His home still uses well water and a septic system, and he hasn't noticed any effects of a larger government.

"There is no noticeable difference," he said.

Smyth said he moved to his property because it was in a semi-rural, quiet neighborhood. That has changed. For example, two new homes are being built near his property.

But that, he said, was inevitable. It is not like the city can stop development any more than the county could.

And Smyth said he will be able to subdivide his 2.5 acres and sell a lot that can connect to city sewer and water.

Cheaper to be in city?

In general, most properties should see a cost savings with an annexation, said Pasco City Manager Gary Crutchfield.

Among the benefits cited by the city include a decrease in property tax rates and lower costs for garbage, water and homeowner insurance. Homeowners will pay a 8.5 percent tax on most household utilities, but in general, savings offset that increase, according to the city.

But Jack Towne said annexation of his home in 2001 was a no-gainer. Most of his costs went up, including cable and phone, while all that noticeably decreased was garbage. His street still is dirt.

"I haven't seen any real true benefit," he said.

Within the first couple of months after annexation, Towne said the city wanted him to add a fence to an area and not park his trailers on his grass.

Some property owners near the Columbia River needed city sewer to develop their properties, Towne said. It frustrated him that property owners with higher-valued land had the most say in the annexation because an area can be annexed if landowners holding 60 percent or more of the assessed property value agree.

Valoria Loveland, a former state senator, state ag director and Franklin County treasurer, said the city legally could do what it did. "I don't like these rules and I don't like how it operates, but it's all legal, so that's the way it is," she said.

For Loveland, the annexation of her property in 2002 still rankles.

She has lived in the same home for more than 40 years and said she always was satisfied with the services she received living in the county.

Post-annexation, her property taxes were higher. And although Loveland is paying a bit more, she said she doesn't feel like she gets more services.

She did voice her displeasure at city hall, but said that didn't make much of a difference.

Cities create doughnut holes themselves by annexing the land around an area, Loveland said. "They create the hole, and then they complain that the hole is there," she said.

Crutchfield said the city made sure it could provide urban services to the plateau where Interstate 182 went in. And a lot of housing was accommodated there that didn't go to the doughnut hole area.

Dennis Duncan said his neighborhood has not changed much since the 1996 annexation. Duncan was part of a committee of neighbors who looked at becoming part of the city to connect to city sewer.

Duncan, who owns Duncan Property Services, said he didn't have a problem with agreeing to annex into the city to access city water.

The committee came up with a wish list, such as not wanting sidewalks or streetlights in the existing neighborhoods, Duncan said. They compared city and county taxes, and determined there wasn't a large difference between the two, with it being a few bucks cheaper to be in the city.

Duncan and others went to talk to property owners and enough of them signed the petition for the area to be annexed in.

The city did install sewer and repaved the street to a finer asphalt. About a year or so after the annexation, Duncan said he hooked up to city sewer.

Annexation was a painful process for some residents, Duncan said. But the area was almost surrounded by the city.

And it was pretty straightforward that if people wanted city services, they needed to be Pasco residents, he said.